The secret behind Dance Marathon

When Jess Short was a student at Grand View University, her mom though she was spending too much time on Dance Marathon.

“My mom thought I should be spending more time working or studying,” said Short, who graduated in 2015. “After I got my first job, she said she understands now why my Dance Marathon experience was important. I wouldn’t be who I am today or the professional I try to be without those experiences.”

Dance Marathons are yearlong, student-run fundraising campaigns that culminate in an 8 to 24-hour event where students stay on their feet dancing. All funds raised are donated to the local Children’s Miracle Network hospital.

Events like this have been taking place on campuses for over 20 years and recently interest has increased. Iowa is now one of the four biggest states for raising funds with Iowa Campus Compact member campuses collectively raising more than $3 million last year (see below for a list of participating schools).

Picture of student Jess Short in a hamster costume.
Jess Short on campus at Grand View University

Short served as a co-founder of Dance Marathon at Grand View. Part of the reason her mom changed her opinion was because her leadership of Dance Marathon was critical to her professional development. It was the main experience she drew from and talked about during interviews and on her resume.

Short now works on a team supporting children with intellectual and neurological disabilities and said her community engagement experiences during college help her remember to think about what is best for the child or situation, and “to see that my perspective is not the only perspective.”

Rachel Moser hasn’t graduated from Loras College yet, but she can already see the same benefits to her personal and professional growth and how those will help her going forward.

“My leadership skills have really grown,” said Moser, who is a senior majoring in public relations and has been involved in Dance Marathon throughout her college experience. “Being in the president’s role, in charge of a team of 15 people and 200 dancers, I am better able to relate to people, read how people are feeling, and see what I can do to make other people more successful.”

Nick Coleman also got his start with Dance Marathon at Loras College, and now works as the Central Area Dance Marathon Manager for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“The reason I enjoy working with Dance Marathon so much is seeing students develop in professional ways,” said Coleman. “They able to use the things they’re studying and directly apply them.

Students locking arms on stage at Dance Marathon event.
University of Iowa Dance Marathon participants during the event.

The students Ashley Dockendorf advises as the coordinator at University of Iowa Dance Marathon raised more than $2.5 million this year. Dockendorf has seen similar personal and professional growth for students in a way that is unique to community engagement experiences.

“Internships are valuable, but these students are actually running the organization,” she said. “They are running the meetings, making the sponsorship asks. It’s a lot more hands on than a typical internship.”

Her students get so much out of their experience that they’ve created a Dance Marathon Alumni Group. This year, that group held a professional development event with current students to help them focus even more on the skills they are building through this experience.

Coleman has seen this interest continue as well, saying he receives emails from alumni about how much the experience impacted their lives and wanting to find ways to get involved locally.

“We’re creating a generation of people who will focus on making an impact on their communities,” he said.

Alicia Huguelet is one of those alumni who still thinks about her experience, even though she graduated in 2000. She says it helped her to build skills she still uses today and determined her career path.

“Having the opportunity to connect with and help support families helped set me on my future path working in public policy,” said Huguelet. “It opened my eyes to how the healthcare system was failing these families during their time of need and that there was a way to make it better.”

IACC members participating in Dance Marathon:
Central College
Clarke University
Drake University
Iowa State University
Grand View University
Loras College
Simpson College
University of Iowa
University of Northern Iowa
Wartburg College

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